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Meet Sundar Pichai: The man behind the most exciting thing in Mobile

 

Google executive Sundar Pichai could not have had a clearer indication of the importance of his new job as head of the company's Android mobile operating system.  

A day before the global unveiling of the Galaxy S4 from Samsung - a company whose mobile devices are the world's leading users of Android - a senior Apple Inc executive launched an extraordinary attack on the South Korean firm, saying the S4's software was outdated and outmoded.

It was the first crack in Apple's previously implacable facade at Android's increasingly dominant position and reaffirmed the operating system's position as the most widely used mobile OS in the world.

And Sundar Pichai - a California-friendly abbreviation of Pichai Sundarajan - has taken on the challenge of maintaining Android's dominance and fending off the competition, not just from Apple's iOS but also systems from Blackberry, Microsoft and Firefox.

It is a new type of test for the lanky, unassuming tech wizard; his previous job had been to take the Google Chrome from coldly received concept to the world's leading web browser.  

He's now charged with taking the most exciting thing in mobile computing to the next level.

Born and raised in Chennai, Pichai, 41, is - like many of his high flying compatriots in Silicon Valley - a graduate of the venerable Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), specifically  IIT Kharagpur, whose alumni include Arun Sarin, the former CEO of Vodafone Group.

After graduating from the institute in 1993 with a diploma in Metallurgical and Materials Engineering, Sundar travelled to California where he studied engineering and materials science at Stanford University.

He also obtained an MBA from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.  

After stints at American semiconductor manufacturer Applied Materials and consulting behemoth McKinsey and Co, Pichai joined Google in 2004 as vice president of product management.

His outstanding work at Google - including developing applications such as iGoogle and Google Toolbar - didn't go unnoticed when, in 2009, Twitter attempted to coax Pichai away from Google who reportedly paid a multi-million dollar bonus to retain the fast-rising star.  

In 2011, he became senior vice president of Google Chrome and Apps, which includes the Chrome browser and operating system, Gmail, Calendar, Docs, and Drive.

Google CEO Larry Page, announcing Pichai's announcement as head of Android, said: "Sundar has a talent for creating products that are technically excellent yet easy to use - and he loves a big bet.  Take Chrome, for example.  In 2008, people asked whether the world really needed another browser.  Today Chrome has hundreds of millions of happy users and is growing fast thanks to its speed, simplicity and security."

"I know Sundar will do a tremendous job doubling down on Android as we work to push the ecosystem forward", Page added.

Chrome has been an immense triumph for father-of-two Pichai, who has transformed it from a fringe product to the most used web browser in the world with 36% of market share, according to Statcounter.

He is said to be almost evangelical in his passion for Chrome and Chrome OS and some industry experts believe Pichai's next step will be to merge Chrome and Android, bridging the gap between the computer and mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets.

At the same time, it will be his job to maintain Android's significant momentum.

The operating system held 70.1 percent of the smartphone OS market in the fourth quarter of 2012, growing nearly three times faster than the second-largest platform, Apple's iOS.

If Android is going to continue its stellar run, Pichai will have to stay on his toes.

His enthusiasm for speed - the cornerstone of the Chrome browser - will surely help.

- Viji Alles

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